Special report — Student Financial Assistance: Give better support to students by being transparent and truly listening

  • March 3, 2022

Québec City, March 3, 2022 – Today, Québec Ombudsperson Marie Rinfret released an investigation report titled L’Aide financière aux études : Mieux accompagner les étudiantes et étudiants en faisant preuve de transparence et d’écoute. After an investigation that covered three aspects of how the public loans and bursaries system is managed (decisional process; handling of applications for recognizing major functional disabilities; and process for analyzing files that may contain misrepresentation), the Québec Ombudsman made 22 recommendations to the Ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur and one to the Minister.

"This report is intended as an exposé of possible solutions regarding Student Financial Assistance, which must engage in and maintain genuine dialogue with students and those who interact with them to support them throughout their education.

Remember that students’ dealings with AFE are often their first contact with public services. In addition to learning in the classroom, these young people must learn lessons that will serve them in good stead as they become citizens. Student Financial Assistance must make sure that it offers fair services that guarantee rigour in handling applications, consistent action, transparency and genuine listening," said Marie Rinfret.

Lack of transparency and genuine listening

The main problems noted during the investigation concerned the rigour and transparency of three processes on which awarding—or not—of financial assistance, or its form or amount, hinges. The Québec Ombudsman saw that these irregularities, along with the poor listening that Student Financial Assistance (AFE) sometimes exhibits, makes for unfairness in processing applications.

Decisions regarding financial assistance and their review

AFE bases its decisions on rules that are not all accessible to students. Moreover, it does not substantiate its decisions enough to enable applicants to understand the underlying reasons and logic. The analysis notes which agents must enter in every student file are often insufficient or out-and-out lacking. This complicates communication with students who want more information about the grounds for a decision.

The Québec Ombudsman also noted the lack of independence of the Bureau des recours, an internal component of AFE responsible for handling applications for review. Neither the AFE website nor the documentation available provides information about deadlines for applying for a Bureau des recours review of an AFE decision. Added to this is the fact that it is impossible to appeal a Bureau des recours decision.

Recognizing major functional disabilities (MFDs)

Lack of clarity about the purpose of the measures provided for people recognized as having a MFD and lack of uniformity in applying eligibility requirements create unfairness in handling applications. The reform of these requirements, which AFE has touted since 2016, is lagging.

Confusion among AFE staff about the retroactivity period that applies when a person requests backdated recognition of their condition leads to inconsistency in decision-making and therefore unfairness.

Analyzing applications that may contain misrepresentation

Students who misrepresent their situation to AFE are excluded from the Loans and Bursaries Program for two years. Despite the gravity of this consequence, AFE distributes very little information on the subject. Decisions are made without applicants being given the opportunity to clarify or complete their initial explanations.

The Québec Ombudsman’s recommendations

Access to loans and bursaries is a crucial issue for eligible applicants, hence the importance of making the required changes without delay.

The main recommendations are the following:

See the special report titled L’Aide financière aux études : Mieux accompagner les étudiantes et les étudiants en faisant preuve de transparence et d’écoute for the summary and the 23 recommendations by the Québec Ombudsman.

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Media Relations:
Carole-Anne Huot
Phone: (418) 646-7143/Cell: (418) 925-7994
Email: carole-anne.huot@protecteurducitoyen.qc.ca